Seeing eye dog Cooper
Seeing eye dog Cooper
Cooper, Andy Garmezy's canine companion, is a celebrity and the resident good boy at the Downtown Nashville Y.

Longtime member Andy Garmezy and his buddy Cooper are among the most recognizable faces at the Downtown Nashville YMCA. The four-year-old golden retriever goes everywhere with Andy: work, hospitals, the grocery store…and, yes, the Y.

Cooper has been coming with Andy ever since he received his first certification three years ago. Cooper has members keep him company in the locker room while Andy showers and receives an escort to Yoga/Pilates class while Andy finishes up riding the bike on the wellness floor. The pup has become quite the celebrity with members and staff alike.

“I was stopped at the Welcome Center and told they needed to get a new picture of me for my membership," Andy shares. "I asked what was wrong with the old one. They told me Cooper wasn’t in it.”

A celebrity, indeed.

Finding each other

After Andy's fourth golden retriever passed, he was searching for another companion and found the perfect breeder in Florida. The mother was a show champion and the father was a hunting champion, so the bloodlines showed traits of beauty and discipline.

When Andy called the breeder, he was told that there was only one puppy left, and Andy decided fate was on his side.

However, the breeder said, “I need to be honest with you. This puppy is the runt of the litter. His litter mates pushed him off his mother during feeding time, so he is the weakest, smallest and most timid of the bunch.”

Andy had a split second to make a decision. Of course, Andy took the young dog, named him Cooper, and the rest is history.

At the age of 12 weeks, Cooper started on his AKC Good Canine certification and has received three other certifications since then. After each certification, Andy drops a line to the breeder to share Cooper’s latest accomplishment. The breeder has written back to confirm that Cooper has turned out to be the best dog of his litter.

Inspiring other "underdogs"

Three times a week, Andy and Cooper visit hospitals around Middle Tennessee where they speak to 5- and 6-year-olds who have had tough upbringings, have been bullied, and suffer from anxiety. Andy shares his story regularly, and it always resonates with his audience.

When he asks what the moral of the story is, the children answer that despite hurdles, Cooper achieved great things.

Andy is no stranger to hurdles himself. “Two months ago, I was at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center to have a massive tumor removed. I was in the hospital for 16 days, and, of course, Cooper was there. But I also had visits from about 10 Downtown Y members. The camaraderie among members is really special.”

Andy's "Y story" is about camaraderie—whether with those that have two legs or four—while overcoming hurdles. He'll keep bringing our community together with Cooper by his side.